Construction workers have some of the most dangerous jobs and the highest rates of workplace injuries, and a Houston construction accident lawyer can help. Sometimes, injuries can only be minor annoyances; however, they can range to those causing lifetime, severe disabilities, and death. If you’re injured on a construction site, get proper medical attention and call Sandoval & Waldman to learn about your rights to workers’ compensation benefits or other potential paths to recovery.
Workers’ compensation was originally developed to be a simpler system than litigation to resolve the issues that come with workplace injuries. Over time and as benefits and medical care have become more expensive, the workers’ compensation system became overwhelming to many. There is simply too much at stake to be confused about how to treat or how to pursue your claim, especially if you suffer a serious injury.
Working in Construction is Hazardous to Your Health
Nearly 6.5 million people work at approximately 252,000 construction sites across the nation on any given day, according to the federal Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA). The agency states that the fatal injury rate for the construction industry is higher than the national average for all other industries.
The top hazards for construction workers include:
- Falls (from heights)
- Trench collapse
- Scaffolding collapse
- Electric shock and arc flash/blast
- Repetitive motion injuries.
Of 4,674 worker fatalities in private industry in 2017, 971, or 21%, were in construction, according to OSHA. The top four causes of workplace deaths accounted for more than half (60%) of the construction worker deaths in 2017. The “Fatal Four” are:
- Falls – 381 out of 971 deaths (39%)
- Struck by object – 80 (8%)
- Electrocutions – 71 (7%)
- Caught-in/between (being caught-in or compressed by equipment or objects, and struck, caught, or crushed in a collapsing structure, equipment, or material) – 50 (5%).
For construction sites, the most OSHA citations for unsafe working conditions include:
- Fall protection
- Head protection
- Hazard communication
- Fall protection
There were 7,509 workers’ compensation claims filed in Texas by those working in the construction industry. The average lost income claim was $10,818, according the Texas Department of Insurance. Also that year, 1,101 construction workers living in Harris County made workers’ comp claims, and there were 971 construction-related claims against employers based in the county.
The types of injuries that can be suffered on construction sites include:
- Amputation of a finger, toe, or limb
- Broken bones or fractures
- Burns due to fires or electricity
- Cuts or lacerations
- Eye injuries or vision loss due to objects like bits of metal, wood or glass getting into the eye or chemicals being splashed into the eye
- Shoulder, knee, or ankle injures such as sprains
- Loss of hearing caused by loud noises
- Paralysis and spinal cord injuries, especially from falls
- Illnesses caused by exposure to chemicals, dusts or particles
- Head or traumatic brain injuries (TBI) often from falls or having objects dropped on a construction worker on the job site.
Houston Construction Accident Lawyer and the Construction Industry
Workers’ compensation is an insurance program which was created by state law. It pays for medical bills and partially replaces income lost due to your work-related injury or illness. Employers’ liability coverage applies if the injury, illness, or death of an employee arises out of and in the course of employment.
In Texas, employers are not forced to carry workers’ compensation insurance unless they are certain private employers or part of a government or educational system. Those without insurance are known as non-subscribers. For those with workers’ compensation insurance coverage, the policyholder would pay income and/or medical benefits to you or your beneficiaries if you qualify.
Workers’ Compensation Claim Process
After your injury or diagnosis with a work-related illness, you need to notify your employer. You have 30 days to file the report, but you should get it started as soon as possible. If your situation is serious, get medical help first and then worry about filing the report (but as soon as possible thereafter, and within the 30-day window).
Find a doctor to treat you, since some physicians do not handle injuries and illnesses that fall under workers’ compensation. Ask your employer whether it’s participating in a certified workers’ compensation healthcare network. Working with a doctor under their insurance might speed up your claim process.
You have another claim to file, this one within one year of the incident, to the Texas Department of Insurance. Your employer may also have other forms that need to be completed beyond the initial injury report and workers’ compensation claim. Depending on your situation, there may be an ongoing need to communicate with your employer, its insurer, and your physician concerning your work status, ability to return to work, and limitations, if any.
If your claim is approved, you will receive your benefits. If it is denied or if you’re not getting the benefits you’re entitled to, you can appeal. As soon as you get notice of a denial, or that you’ll be receiving insufficient benefits, contact a Houston construction accident lawyer at Sandoval & Waldman. We are often able to straighten out misunderstandings or provide information or documentation needed before your claim can be approved. If they’re not willing to be reasonable, we can appeal their decision.
The first stage of dispute resolution with the Division of Workers’ Compensation is a Benefit Review Conference. This is an informal meeting in which you, your attorney, and a representative of your employer’s insurance carrier will meet with a Division of Workers’ Compensation Benefit Review Officer to try to work out what needs to be done for you to get coverage.
Arbitration is a more formal process where you will meet again with a representative from the insurance carrier to resolve the issue. The arbitrator hears from both sides and renders a decision. He or she is chosen by the Division of Workers’ Compensation.
Arbitration normally takes less time and costs less than a full contested case hearing. However, you give up your right to a contested case hearing in front of a hearing officer and, unlike with a contested case hearing, you can’t appeal an arbitration decision.
If you bypass the arbitration, the next step would be a contested case hearing. It’s a formal, legal process which is run by a Division of Workers’ Compensation Hearing Officer. He or she considers the evidence submitted by the parties and later issues a written decision adjudicating the claim.
If the decision doesn’t go your way, you could appeal it to the Division of Workers’ Compensation Appeals Panel. No new evidence is considered. Their written decision is based on findings of law. It will affirm, change, or reverse the Hearing Officer’s decision. The Panel’s decision could be appealed to the Texas State Courts.
Employees, Not Independent Contractors, Are Covered
Often those working in construction are misclassified as independent contractors, not employees who would qualify for benefits. Just because you are labeled an independent contractor, this doesn’t necessarily make it so. Under the state’s workers’ compensation law Sec. 406.121(2), an independent contractor is defined as a person who contracts to perform work, or to provide a service for the benefit of another, who ordinarily …
- Acts as the employer of any employee of the contractor by paying wages, directing activities, and performing other similar functions characteristic of an employer-employee relationship
- Is free to determine the manner in which the work or service is performed, including the hours of labor or method of payment to any employee
- Is required to furnish or to have employees, if any, furnish necessary tools, supplies, or materials to perform the work or service
- Possesses the skills required for the specific work or service.
If your claim for benefits has been turned down because of your employee status, contact our office so we can discuss whether there are grounds to challenge that decision so you can get the benefits you’re entitled to under the law.
What Happens if Your Employer is a Non-Subscriber
If your employer hasn’t purchased an insurance policy to cover work-related injuries or illnesses, and your injury was caused by your employer’s negligence, it could be sued to compensate you for the harm you suffered. You could recover from the assets your employer has, depending on the legal entity owning the business. Your employer may also be self-insured for worker’ comp, meaning it has its own insurance plan that provides benefits and covers injuries to employees while on the job.
How a Construction Accident Lawyer Can Help
Sandoval & Waldman provides representation to people injured or made ill because of their job. Workers compensation law and procedures can be complex. Going it alone could allow an employer or insurance company to walk away from their responsibilities to you.
Even if your claim is accepted, while receiving benefits there could be dozens of ways an insurance company can try to short-change you with your income and medical benefits. Our construction accident lawyers help our clients get all the benefits they deserve and are entitled to under the law. We understand how Texas’ workers’ compensation laws and system work. Sandoval Waldman won’t tolerate an employer or insurance company trying to avoid its responsibilities and trying to cheat one of our clients.
Depending on the circumstances and cause of your work injury or illness, other parties may be legally responsible. There could be a “third-party” lawsuit against a non-employer whose negligence or defective product contributed to the harm you suffered.
This situation is especially common on construction sites. There will be a general contractor along with a number of subcontractors. If you work for one subcontractor, but are injured because of the negligence of another, you may have a third-party claim. Such a claim may also arise if you are struck by a vehicle driven by someone not with the same employer or by a defective tool or piece of equipment. These legal claims may result in compensation not available under workers’ compensation, including pain, suffering, mental anguish, and punitive damages.
Take the Next Step: Talk to a Workers’ Compensation Lawyer
Our construction accident lawyers in Houston are dedicated to representing injured workers and their families. There are specific time requirements that must be met when filing workers’ compensation claims. Consult an attorney with experience in workers’ compensation as soon as possible after a work-related injury. Call us today at 713-688-4878 for your free workplace injury consultation. Remember, your initial consultation is free, and there is no fee if there is no recovery.